Using poetry to engage staff in training

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Poems can help make internal comms more memorable, and excite employees to help spread the message

From Yeats to Shakespeare, some of the world’s greatest literature is poetry. But it doesn’t have to be confined to studying these literary greats in school; it’s also a powerful communication tool for engaging employees.

One area that can be difficult to engage workers on is health and safety (H&S). Whether you operate from managed offices, a building site, a factory or another safety-critical environment such as an airport, there are understandably stringent and specific H&S regulations and policies to adhere to.

Staff are usually introduced to specific standards and to the importance of H&S in general during their induction, and most companies will ensure that they have regular follow-up training sessions and briefings to reinforce the key messages.

With an end goal of striving for an accident-free workplace, it is critical that we engage with employees in the continual improvement and ownership of H&S. And we need to step up and be more creative in doing so.

The key is to focus on the importance of doing rather than just thinking. How can you get staff to buy in to your standards? What will make them sit up and take notice? And how can you get the message to resonate?

The overall health and safety message is not likely to change regularly, if at all. So it’s about creating ‘collateral’ that will last. The first step is to think about the format in which you want to get the message across (video/presentation/workshop/mobile app) but more importantly to make sure it’s easily accessible, giving staff the ability to watch it anytime and anywhere.

And then there’s the script. It needs to be personal but at the same time carry a message that relates to everyone. And in my view there’s no better way to fulfil all this criteria than through poetry – which has a unique ability to make a message understandable and memorable.

We tested this concept for ourselves and it has had a great impact on staff so far; employees are already stepping forward and getting involved. We carefully selected a health and safety poem by Don Merrell called It’s up to me, as it fits well with our ThinkSafe! ActSafe! BeSafe! mantra, then asked for volunteers who’d like to appear in the video to recite different lines of the poem. The fact that there was no shortage of applicants gave us the confidence that we were on the right track.

High levels of employee engagement are widely considered a valuable indicator of organisational health, and creativity is crucial for empowering teams. Not only can poetry help improve verbal skills and memory, it improves critical thinking, develops empathy and insight, and encourages engagement with other art forms.

But words alone aren’t always enough. The best-placed people to improve safety are those on the frontline, and by acting on their concerns and ideas we can reduce the number of incidents and demonstrate ownership at all levels in the improvement of health and safety. You should think about asking employees to suggest ways they can work with increased safety through focused conversations with their line managers, meetings, briefings and inspections.

Every good HR department will put the safety of staff first and want to empower employees to make a difference. And there’s no better way to drive ownership than encouraging feedback, listening to it, and then acting on it. By making H&S messages understandable and memorable, while encouraging staff to be involved and take a lead on these matters, the real difference will happen.

Andrew Lewinton is head of health, safety and environment at OmniServ

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